Pre-Med: What to Know About Being a Medical Scribe

As part of your research into pre-medical clinical experience opportunities, you may have come across medical scribing as a way to gain exposure to clinical settings. In the last few years, the use of electronic health records (EHR) has expanded in the United States, leading to doctors and health providers to rely partly on medical scribes to document and maintain patient data. As a medical scribe, you’ll accompany a physician, nurse, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant during patient interactions and take down relevant information to enter in the patient’s records. You will also perform several clerical or administrative duties for the physician you’ve been assigned to. This allows doctors to spend more time diagnosing and treating patients and less time handling records. This role allows you to combine shadowing with other skills you’ll find valuable later in your career, such as patience and discretion, as well as maintaining your composure in stressful situations. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about working as a medical scribe as part of your pre-med clinical experience.

  • Question: What does a medical scribe do?

    Answer: According to the The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), a medical scribe is “an unlicensed individual hired to enter information into the electronic health record (EHR) or chart at the direction of a physician or licensed independent practitioner.” Furthermore, according to AHIMA,  “A scribe’s core responsibility is to capture accurate and detailed documentation (handwritten, electronic, or otherwise) of the encounter in a timely manner. Medical scribes are not permitted to make independent decisions or translations while capturing or entering information into the health record or EHR beyond what is directed by the provider. The general duties of a scribe may vary and can include:

    • Assisting the provider in navigating the EHR
    • Responding to various messages as directed by the provider
    • Locating information for review (i.e., previous notes, reports, test results, and laboratory results)
    • Entering information into the EHR as directed by the provider
    • Researching information requested by the provider
  • Question: Is any prior experience needed to be hired as a medical scribe?

    Answer: You will need a minimum of a high school diploma, although some college experience is recommended, most importantly because being familiar with medical terminology, especially in physiology and anatomy, will come in very handy. You’ll need to be comfortable with computers and typing. Most of all, you’ll need to have the maturity and composure to handle yourself under the fast pace of medical care while maintaining your work accuracy.

  • Question: How many hours will I need to commit to medical scribing and how much will I be paid?

    AnswerIf you are hired through one of the agencies that specialize in hiring and training scribes to be deployed in clinical settings, you will typically be asked to commit to scribing for a minimum period of time. For example, you’ll be asked to maintain a certain number of shifts as a part-time medical scribe for a period of two years, or less if you commit to full-time placement. Be aware that even a part-time commitment of a few shifts a week can be 20 hours or more, so make sure you’re able to balance this time with your class schedule and MCAT prep. Although scribing is a rewarding experience, it should not come before your grades or your MCAT score. Medical scribes are paid an hourly rate, and your salary will depend on which agency you work with, if any, the state you work in, etc. If you work full-time as a medical scribe, during a gap year for example, you may be eligible for benefits such as health and dental.

  • Question: How long does it take to get trained as a medical scribe?

    Answer: If you’re hired by one of the medical scribe agencies, expect to go through a training or orientation period of a few weeks to make sure you’re ready for your first day. Then you’ll work alongside a more experienced medical scribe who will check your work and ensure that you’re getting the hang of things. Lastly, you’ll undergo periodic checking of your skills and work so you’re always learning and getting more efficient in your role. Your training time should be paid.

  • Question: What different specialties can I scribe in?

    Answer: Although they’re frequently used in emergency departments at hospitals, medical scribes can be used by physicians in just about any specialty. Any physician looking to increase her productivity may choose to work with a scribe. When you’re hired, you’ll usually be placed with a specific department and rotate between providers, or you might get to work with one provider over a longer period of time. When interviewing, you can indicate your interest in other specialties. You can also make those connections on the job. As you excel at your work and become a reliable, valuable member of the healthcare team, you may even get requested on a specific service.

  • Question: What should I look for when trying to decide between different scribe companies?

    Answer: As there are several companies you could choose from, see which ones are working with providers in your area, or with a provider you most want to work with. For example, if the hospital you’d like to work in only works with a certain scribe provider, you’ll want to apply there first and go from there. Other than that, do your due diligence like you would any other job. Check out company reviews on websites like Glassdoor and Payscale to get a sense of salaries, interview questions, and employee experiences. Ask your career services department or pre-med advisor at your school if they’ve heard particularly positive things about a specific company, and ask around your classes — one of your classmates might be working as a medical scribe and be able to tell you about their experience.

  • Question: What about remote medical scribes?

    Answer: Although this is likely a good option for people wanting to pursue medical scribing as work and is a great employment opportunity, if you’d like to use this experience as preparation for medical school, you should strongly consider settings where you are working side–by-side with physicians and staff and spending time with patients. You won’t diagnose, treat, or touch patients as a scribe, but you will learn the “soft” skills required in direct patient care.

  • Question: How can I build connections as a medical scribe?

    Answer: As a medical scribe, you function as the physician’s personal assistant over many hours and a lengthy period of time. You will spend time with them and in the department and have a chance to interact with people throughout your shift. Your assigned physician may not have the time or the inclination to mentor you personally, but you’ll be around healthcare providers all the time. During your quiet periods, the physicians you work with will be able to offer advice and guidance, as well as their perspective on medical school and their chosen field. That face time, coupled with showing your reliability and maturity is going to help you in the future.

  • Question: Shadowing vs. scribing: What should I choose?

    Answer: You don’t have to. While you won’t want to take on medical scribing and shadowing commitments at the same time, there’s no reason why you can’t do both. The benefit of scribing is that you’ll truly become a part of the team providing healthcare while getting to observe a physician in their day-to-day. Physician shadowing will give you a greater degree of flexibility and the opportunity to observe more varied specialties with a shorter time commitment. No matter which path you choose, you’ll want to be able to speak about your experience and your choices when you get asked about it at your medical school interview.